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X-Men: First Class
X-Men: First Class is a prequel film that takes place a few decades before the events that occurred in Bryan Singer's X-Men and X2: X-Men United. The story reintroduces the origin of Magneto as a child and gives a more thorough understanding of the character. Likewise, the youthful Professor X (Charles Xavier) is brought forth and viewers get a chance to see the beginnings of a gifted leader. Viewers are also given an early glimpse of Mystique and the back-stories behind several X-Men characters never before seen in the film franchise. Over the course of the film the story unfolds with these characters as young adults: Xavier (James McAvoy), Erik (Michael Fassbender), and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) are given the proper screen time for their characters stories to be properly told and in a dramatically relevant way. With a backdrop of real-world politics and government during the 1960's (altered at some points for storytelling effect) X-Men: First Class also features Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) as a man determined to begin another world war that these X-Men must unite against in order to save the world.
X-Men and X2: X-Men United were both incredibly entertaining and rewarding cinematic experiences that managed to satisfy audiences with intelligent storytelling, direction, and superb craftsmanship. Bryan Singer was the perfect choice as the film-maker to bring the franchise to audiences worldwide. Then something seriously unfortunate happened: the X-Men series began to irritate almost everyone... the comic books fans, film buffs, and regular multiplex attendees. X-Men: The Last Stand opened worldwide to decidedly mixed results. The franchise seemed to have forgotten what made the stories so compelling and refreshing to moviegoers in the first place. Luckily, the studio listened to the fans and delivered the follow-up... X-Men Origins: Wolverine? The series was seemingly heading nowhere and fast. The X-Men film franchise seemed to be heading in a direction that wasn't going to satisfy most fans (whether they were readers of the comics or only viewers of the feature films).
X-Men: First Class is a solid return to form for the series and it is actually on-par with the first two X-Men feature films. X-Men: First Class is even superior to them in many regards. The direction is incredible, the writing equally important, the acting never misses a moment, and the production design outdoes anything found in any of the previous X-Men outings.
The script for the film was written by Matthew Vaughn, Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Jane Goldman. The foundations of the entire film rest on the story and whether or not audiences will consider it one worth being told. Looking back at X-Men: The Last Stand the largest problem was not the direction (although Bett Ratner is certainly no Matthew Vaughn or Bryan Singer) but the fact that it completely ignored the foundations of the storytelling in place throughout the first two efforts. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was no different and it was simply built around a weak foundation. X-Men: First Class has a genuinely impressive script that understands well-written characters and a meaningful story arrives before the action.
Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kick-Ass) has outdone himself with this film and has surprised audience expectations by offering us his best effort to date. There is a sense of seriousness behind the story and the directorial execution that seems more evocative of a dramatic film than a comic book based film. Vaughn has successfully joined fellow-filmmaker Christopher Nolan as a true pioneer of the medium; as someone who can understands that comic books don't have to be turned into watered down examples of non-stop explosions or action when what is really important is that the stories are fundamentally compelling and about human issues that are relevant to us all. Bryan Singer understood how to craft stories in this way as well but to some degree Vaughn has stepped up the task and made X-Men: First Class the most thoroughly compelling film in the series thus far. In both the script and direction Matthew VaughXavin places the importance on more than mere set pieces. He understands a good story in script, how to visualize it, and how to bring forth amazing performances from the actors he works with.
The performances are amazing and largely because the casting was strong in the first place. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender had huge shoes to fill in performing characters that were previously performed by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Surely a daunting task for both of them, but one that was pulled off magnificently by performing the same characters while offering unique spins in their performances. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender might not look like a young Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen but they capture the essence behind the characters previously portrayed in X-Men. Relative newcomer Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) also manages to bring a great performance as Raven/Mystique -- one that demonstrates her immense talent and that should suggest that she will receive many more interesting roles in the future. Kevin Bacon (who is probably the biggest name actor in the entire production) excels as Sebastian Shaw and delivers one of his best performances in years. January Jones (Mad Men) and Rose Byrne (Damages) also give notable supporting performance as Emma Frost and Moira MacTaggert respectively in a superbly rounded out cast consisting only of talented actors.
The end result of X-Men: First Class is a surprising return-to-form for a film franchise that was almost entirely out of steam. The production work is some of the best of the year, the score is intense, performances are strong all around, and the script/direction makes this a film that stands out as one of the best of the entire year and certainly a top contender for the best film of the summer.
X-Men: First Class arrives on Blu-ray with a stunning High-Definition presentation that accurately represents the theatrical exhibition in the aspect ratio 2.35:1. The image is smooth, crisp, and the colors are accurate and visually stunning. The cinematography appears to be well represented as well. Fans will be pleased with the nearly-perfect PQ. Problems such as edge-enhancement, DNR, and over-saturation in the color department don't appear to have any place on this high quality release. X-Men: First Class is 1080p, AVC-encoded (at an average bitrate of 23 MBPS), and perfectly satisfactory in the video department.
The audio presentation is incredible with an absolutely stellar 5.1 surround sound DTS-HD Master Audio track that delivers a sonically powerful and potent experience. The dialogue remains crisp, clear, and easy to follow throughout. Meanwhile, the sound effects often bring the experience to even greater heights with every element immersive, impressive, and worthwhile. X-Men: First Class on Blu-ray also includes French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, and English 5.1 Dolby Digital (Descriptive Audio). Optional subtitles are included in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing) and Spanish.
There are some absolutely stellar bonus materials on this Blu-ray release. No commentary tracks are included (which may disappoint some fans) but the lack of one isn't that missed when one considers the detailed and enthralling Children of the Atom documentary which is going to satisfy fans of X-Men: First Class with its plentiful supply of informative material.
Before noting each on-disc extra it is worth noting that a Digital Copy is included with the Blu-ray and that there is a short Digital Copy "How To" video-guide available on the Blu-ray disc.
X Marks the Spots (19:55) is a short collection of featurettes about different sequences in the film and how they came into fruition. Each piece offers a pleasant and informative vibe with good behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. It almost feels as though these extras could have been integrated in to the main documentary feature but it probably would have had some kind of effect on the pacing (which is likely the main reason these segments are spotlighted here). Some highlights of the footage include a piece exploring the early scenes in the film and how the production crew approached recreating the opening moments with Erik (as seen in the first X-Men film); how the sets were to recreate the time and place. It was fascinating to hear Bryan Singer note how he had initially thought the crew had pulled up the original X-Men dailies when he first saw the footage. It was also great to see a segment on the cameo return of Rebecca Romijn (Mystique) and how it was possible to create the moment in the film. There is also an interesting piece that examines how the opening/ending credits sequences were created and the vision Matthew Vaughn brought towards that element of homage to many classic genre pictures (including the legendary James Bond films with credit sequences the filmmaker was particularly impressed with).
Here is a list of the segments in sequential order: Erik in Auschwitz, Charles Meets Raven, Mr. Howlett Declines, Mindscape, Emulsional Journey, Rebecca's Return, Cuban Beach Pre-Viz Sequence, Retro Cool. Each piece covers a different element of production. These segments can be viewed as a "play all" feature or as integrated behind-the-scenes videos shown next to the corresponding scenes in the actual film (during a viewing of X-Men: First Class).
Composer's Isolated Score 5.1 Dolby Digital is exactly as it sounds. This bonus feature provides fans an opportunity to listen to the complete score by itself (without sound effects or dialogue) and it is a great opportunity to listen to the subtle nuance of the music as well as to marvel in how the score fundamentally makes a huge difference in the atmosphere of the film. This is the kind of extra that more Blu-ray releases should contain. It's exactly the kind of supplement that score lovers appreciate and it can be a learning tool for movie fans who aspire to make films. The only drawback is the lack of a lossless high-resolution audio option but it's hard to find much fault with the option for the standalone score nonetheless.
Cerebro: Mutant Tracker is a neatly edited collection of short videos on characters in the X-Men feature films. As the main stylized video begins viewers select a character (use the enter button on your remote) and a clip for the highlighted character will begin. While these clips are pretty entertaining it's hard to see that much of a point behind the feature besides emphasizing to fans that the other X-Men films are available on Blu-ray to own. This is still a cool feature for fans and is worth checking out at least once.
Children of the Atom (1:09:49) is the incredibly well made feature-length documentary covering the making of X-Men: First Class. It is broken down into several segments (much like the X Marks the Spot) with decent length coverage of various production elements. It covers a lot of ground (such as the planning stages of the production and how Bryan Singer was originally attached to direct). The documentary details Matthew Vaughn's association with the franchise and how he was initially attached to the third X-Men film before leaving the project. There is a lot of great information given on how the script evolved over time. The documentary has a ton of interview material that really delves into the project from the planning stages to the actual filming. Matthew Vaughn gives some great insight into his vision and approach to the film. Some of the elements of production covered include the music (highlighting the wonderful optimism, enthusiasm, and energy of the composer), how a great musical cue became even stronger with the help of the director's input, the casting decisions regarding characters (and the emphasis on focusing on a largely unknown cast), the make-up decisions (such as the authenticity of Beast's animalistic blue-hairdo or the full-body paint used to create the look of Mystique), the large scale of stage design used, and even more areas of production. It's reasonably comprehensive and it is never boring. Not even for a second. Any fan of X-Men: First Class will want to watch the documentary and that's an impressive accomplishment.
The segments (in sequential order): Second Genesis, Band of Brothers, Transformation, Suiting Up, New Frontier: A Dose of Style, Pulling Off the Impossible, and Sound and Fury.
Deleted Scenes (14:07) offers viewers thirteen scenes in total (some of which are merely extended sequences). There were a few scenes that were particularly interesting and may have been worth seeing in the final cut but for the most part it is clear why the footage is included in the supplemental section of the home media release and not in the actual film. Most of the footage feels unnecessary to the scope of the film and would have slowed down the impressive pace established and maintained by X-Men: First Class.
X-Men: First Class is first-class entertainment (pardon the pun). This is one of those rare summer blockbusters that understands how good storytelling and solid craftsmanship are the most important elements in making a worthwhile film experience and Matthew Vaughn confirms his excellence as a go-to filmmaker with immense talent. The Blu-ray PQ/AQ is impressive to behold and the supplemental features are solidly well-made and engaging. Highly Recommended.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.